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Belanus Hired to Develop 4-H Programs in Albuquerque's Southeast Heights

ALBUQUERQUE - A new staff member will continue New Mexico State University's outreach to at-risk youth in Albuquerque's Southeast Heights, where drugs, gang activity and other risky behavior represent a latent danger.

Nicole Belanus began work in October as a 4-H associate with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. She will create in-school and after-school activities for urban youth in the La Mesa and Trumbull neighborhoods, two low-income, immigrant-heavy districts where 4-H has only had a marginal presence.

"There's a lot of underserved youth in the Southeast Heights who can really benefit from 4-H," Belanus said.

Belanus is one of six new 4-H agents hired this year to work with at-risk youth in Bernalillo, Chaves, Luna, Mora, San Miguel, Socorro and Taos counties. The agents were hired under a $1 million U.S. Justice Department grant that aims to increase 4-H opportunities for youth not previously involved in the program.

A prior Justice Department grant funded a three-year program, known as 4-H Share/Care, which targeted the Southeast Heights until it ended last spring. Share/Care offered substance abuse prevention education for elementary and middle school students through in-school and after-school activities.

Belanus will continue some of the initiatives begun under Share/Care, such as coordinating a community garden in Trumbull Village, teaching a substance abuse prevention course for fifth-graders at La Mesa and Emerson elementary schools and organizing after-school clubs.

Belanus hopes to draw Highland High School students into the program as mentors for younger children. She will invite Highland volunteers to join a new youth council to develop community-based activities for younger children and their parents. She also plans to start an anger management program at Van Buren Middle School.

Belanus received a liberal arts degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2000. She worked with high school dropouts to develop life skills and find jobs as a youth advocate with the Service, Employment and Redevelopment (SER de New Mexico) program in Albuquerque's South Valley from November 2000 to October 2001. She also worked with developmentally disabled adults at Share Your Care Inc. in Albuquerque from November 2001 to July 2002.

"4-H helps build life skills, self-esteem and a sense of community," said Bob Pate, acting director of the Bernalillo County Extension office. "By working with at-risk youth, 4-H can help these kids make healthy choices in life."